It’s hard to believe but we’ve now been on our smallholding for 7 years. These days it’s much harder to picture our old suburban house or even the work involved in packing up to move here in May 2013
Hopefully we are becoming better custodians of this place as we go along but there was a lot to learn. Even just understanding the management of the land never mind working with livestock for the first time or adapting to rural life in general.
That’s not to say that this “smallholding journey” has been without problems over that period. There have definitely been moments when I wondered why this seemed to be such a good idea at the start.
Despite those lows, we wouldn’t have missed all this for the world. It’s been a steep learning curve for us as complete beginners. The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is to view any difficulties or setbacks as part of the bigger picture. There has to be both positive and negative aspects to fully experience the smallholding lifestyle so it comes with the package.
Sometimes we reminisce on how our lives used to be, this is usually followed by some laughs at the contrast to our current lives. We’ve been very lucky with this journey so it’s important to me that we continue to move onwards and upwards for the future
One of the reasons we originally decided to get pedigree Dexter cattle was because they are a native UK breed. This means they are well suited to the British climate and able to live outside all year round even here in the North Pennines.
However, as they’re always outside that means they have to calve outside as well. This has previously gone smoothly for us and we try to ensure a late spring calving so the weather should be better.
As luck would have it, this has been a really dry and warm spell so last Friday evening was the perfect time for Daisy to calve. I’d barely switched off the computer from the day job and her behaviour started to change which is always a strong indication.
She managed the whole thing completely unaided as always although I had to watch closely because the whole process fascinates me. Even though we’ve had 9 calves before over the years, there is something special about it.
Daisy has great mothering instincts and the new born calf immediately got properly washed all over.
The next challenges for the new born calf are getting on their feet and suckling for the first time. It is important that the calf gets to suckle soon after birth because the first milk has lots of antibodies and nutrients that they need for a good start in life.
Thankfully these events all happened relatively quickly and smoothly so we can be sure that this is a healthy calf and he’s got the best start possible
Before you know it, the mother and calf are wandering around the field as if that’s nothing unusual – apart from the curiosity of the other members of the herd of course.
This is a bull calf and, with some assistance from social media users, Daisy eventually decided on the name Isaac or Ike for short. The initial letter “I” being a decision we made some time ago so he follows on from Elvis, Frank, Garry and Hattie
She produced 9 lovely Tamworth x Berkshire piglets (8 boars and a single gilt) with very little trouble. From that point right through until weaning just over a week ago now, she has been an excellent mother with apparently endless patience and plenty of milk.
Her litter really thrived with her and enjoyed their time out in the woods until eventually at about 7 weeks old it was time for weaning.
Since then Fifi has happily settled back into a slower pace of life in a shared pen with Sissy in a fresh part of the woods.
Once they had been weaned, her litter were sold on to new homes and they even behaved impeccably when loading them into the trailer for delivery. This makes them probably the most successful litter we’ve ever had.
As is usual with pigs, once the mother is weaned you can be sure that she will come into season again within about a week. With this in mind, I decided that it was worth repeating the Tamworth/Berkshire cross-breed with Fifi again almost immediately.
Now there’s just the small matter of waiting 3 weeks to confirm that Fifi is definitely in-pig and if she doesn’t come into season then that’s another success for my pig AI skills! I could use an AI success again given that my last attempt with Sissy has apparently failed.
Once it’s been confirmed that Fifi is in-pig then it’s another 3 months or so before she farrows again which should be around the end of August.
Given the fact that we sold out of our latest batch of pork boxes in a single weekend, I have a feeling it may have been better to keep a few from her litter. On the other hand, it will be good to have reduced numbers for the next few months. With outdoor reared pigs it’s essential to rest the land used from time to time to avoid any build up of pests and diseases.
Most of the empty pig pens have now been reseeded with a specific seed mix for pigs. This is a grass based mix which also has things like kale and turnips added which is great for foraging pigs! It will be really interesting to see how well that does in the future.